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Perception Persuasion Behavior: PR at Work

Managers - the business, non-profit and association sort - really need to get this down pat if they are to meet their managerial objectives.

They need to do something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of theirs that most affect their operation. And as they persuade those key outside folks to their way of thinking, help move them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

The good news for those managers is that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences.

The premise? People act on their own perception of the facts before them, which leads to predictable behaviors about which something can be done. When we create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action the very people whose behaviors affect the organization the most, the public relations mission is accomplished.

There is literally no end to the magic that can be wrought: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; welcome bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to work with you; capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; customers starting to make repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; community leaders beginning to seek you out, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

First, get your public relations people on board this particular approach to PR. Reason is, they must buy into why it's so important to know how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And do be sure they accept the reality that negative perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can damage your organization.

Then, spend some time outlining how you plan to monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

You'll find satisfaction in the fact that your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for the initial opinion monitoring project. Professional survey firms are always available, of course, but that can blow your budget. So, whether it's your people or a survey firm who handles the questioning, the objective is to identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, and misconceptions.

It's time to decide which of the problems outlined above becomes your corrective public relations goal - clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, correct the false assumption or fix a variety of other possible inaccuracies?

The fact is that you will realize that goal only when you select the right strategy from the three choices available to you. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Picking the wrong strategy will taste like Limberger cheese on your Jello. So please be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Now, one of the more challenging aspects of your public relations effort, writing a persuasive message aimed at members of your target audience. It's never easy to craft action-forcing language that will help persuade a target audience to your way of thinking.

Needless to say, be certain you have your best writer on the assignment. What's needed are words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you desire.

On the other hand, one of the less challenging chores is identifying the communications tactics needed to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Insuring that the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like your audience members, you can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.

It's also a fact that the believability of the message can be dependent on the credibility of its delivery method. Which means you may wish to deliver it in small getogether-like meetings and presentations rather than through a higher- profile media announcement.

When progress reports are first suggested, you and your PR team are well advised to undertake a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. The same questions used in the benchmark session can be used again. But now, you will be observing very carefully for indications that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

If activity isn't at the pace you desire, rest assured that the PR program usually can be accelerated by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

The bottom line for a business, non-profit or association manager is this: a workable public relations blueprint will help you persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, and move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, group, division or subsidiary.

Another example of perception, persuasion and behavior, PR at work.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at Word count is 1010 including guidelines and resource box. Robert A. Kelly 2005.

Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi- cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University, major in public relations. Visit:


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